Back Roads: Delhi to Mumbai
Trip Code: AITBDM
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This unique India Unbound itinerary combines a relaxed pace with a string of charming heritage hotels and World Heritage-listed monuments between Delhi and Mumbai.
By utilising several little-known rural heritage hotels, and employing what might be a completely unique route, this itinerary allows you to visit a number of important monuments and religious sites in central India – some rarely visited and others normally included as fly-in, fly-out stops. A wide range of optional activities at the various hotels and several short travel days gives the trip an unhurried feel, ideal for taking it easy and/or exploring with side-trips and unscheduled stops as you go.
• Ideally this itinerary is timed to coincide with Chandrabagha Fair, which takes place in Jhalawar in late November. Please see Day 8 for a description of the fair.
• The itinerary is suited to people visiting north India for a second time or for travellers who enjoy offbeat places and hotels. You will get more out of the trip if you are an independent-minded traveller who will enjoy an open-ended day-to-day program with time for poking around and chatting to hosts.
Day 1 Delhi
You will be met on arrival in Delhi and transferred to your hotel. Delhi is generally considered a close to 5000-year old city. Its location attracted rulers from ancient times because of its strategic and commercial value. Fought over repeatedly it became the capital for a succession of empires and kingdoms – identified as the ‘Seven Cities of Delhi’. Monuments, relics and ruins of these cities can be seen everywhere; they are a telling tale of the evolution of architectural styles of the times and the synthesis of various cultures and influences. The ‘eighth’ city of Delhi is New Delhi; the capital of the British Empire in the East, it was inaugurated in 1931 and in 1947 became the capital of independent India.
Later in the afternoon you will be taken on a tour of New Delhi, including visits to Humayun’s Tomb and the Qutab Minar and a drive past Lutyens’ imperial Delhi. The Tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal Emperor, was commissioned by his widow, Haji Begum and built by Persian architect Mirak Mirza Ghiyath in 1565, fourteen years after the emperor’s death. A magnificent garden tomb, it is the first substantial example of Mughal architecture in India; it inspired several later monuments, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
The origins of Qutab Minar are shrouded in controversy. Some believe it was erected as a tower of victory to signify the beginning of the Muslim rule in India. Others say it served as a minaret to the muezzins to call the faithful to prayer. No one can, however, dispute that the tower is one of the finest monuments in India. Qutab-ud-din Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, commenced the construction of the Qutab Minar in 1200 AD; his successor, Iltutmush, added three more storeys, and in 1368, Firoz Shah Tughlak constructed the fifth and the last storey.
In 1911, British architect Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to design India’s new capital. Over the next twenty years he and his colleague, Herbert Baker, built a city of impressive scale and beauty. Its buildings, though obviously symbols of imperial power, are an harmonious blending of Western Classicism and decorative Indian motifs. Your drive will take you past India Gate, the Rashtrapati Bhawan (President’s House), Parliament House and colonial bungalows in tree-lined avenues.
Day 2 Karauli
Transfer to the railway station this morning to board the train to Hindaun. You will be met on arrival and driven (45 minutes) to your hotel in Karauli. Remainder of the day at leisure.
Founded in 1348, Karauli was strongly fortified by its rulers; it is surrounded by a wall of red sandstone strengthened by bastions at several places. The peripheral wall, now dilapidated at several places, has six gates and eleven posterns.
Day 3 Karauli
Full day at leisure with driver and vehicle at your disposal. A holy city, many people visit Karauli to observe devotional life at the temples of Kaila Devi (the city’s guardian deity) located on the banks of the Kalisil River. You may like to visit the Maharaja’s Palace; although in need of restoration, it has some impressive architectural features and the Durbar Hall contains fine wall paintings and stone carvings. Or, you could take a stroll through the village with its handicraft shops selling lacquer work, bangles, wooden toys, bamboo items, traditional sweets, and much more.
Day 4 Bundi
Depart Karauli this morning for Bundi (a 4-hour drive). On arrival, check in to your hotel and the remainder of the afternoon free to relax or explore.
Bundi is really more a large town than a city, perfect for a wander and a taste of Rajasthan away from the usual trail. You may enjoy a stroll through its cobbled lanes winding past blue-whitewashed houses, temples and old havelis and through colourful bazaars and markets of vegetable, fruit and flower sellers.
Day 5 Bundi
Surrounded by the Aravalli range and encircled by a high wall, with only four gateways into the city, Bundi has a Rajput charm that few other places in Rajasthan have managed to retain. The city is particularly well known for its fort, smaller palaces and havelis, and ornate baolis (step wells).
Spend this morning sightseeing with a local guide, starting at the Palace, lavishly decorated in murals covering a range of subjects including legends of Lord Krishna, battle and court scenes. Following this, drive around the Sukh Sagar Lake to view Kesar Bagh, the sixty-six cenotaphs of the Bundi royals, elegantly carved with marble ceilings, decorative friezes and elephants. Afternoon free.
Day 6 Bhainsorgarh
After a leisurely breakfast, you will be driven (3 hours) to Bhainsrorgarh. On arrival check into your hotel and remainder of the day at leisure. Your accommodation here, Bhainsrorgarh Fort, is an 18th century fortified outpost of the erstwhile kingdom of Mewar. It crowns a 60 metre rocky ridge overlooking the River Chambal. The palace has been restored to its old world charm and offers five large suites, each with a different character and personality. All rooms overlook the Chambal River. [Image: Chris Caldicott].
Day 7 Bhainsorgarh
This morning, visit the architecturally brilliant 8th century Baroli Temples that are a 15-minute drive away. During the day you can relax with a book on the rooftop terrace or in one of the many alcoves that you’ll come across if you explore the fort. The town of Bhainsrorgarh is also worth visiting, with typical Rajasthan villages scenes playing out.
In the late afternoon enjoy a boat ride on the Chambal River in a spacious and comfortable old styled boat. Keep your eyes open for mugger crocodiles. You may also see alligators or marsh crocodiles if you are lucky. [Image: Chris Caldicott].
Day 8 Jhalawar
Depart Bhainsrorgarh today for the 2 ½ hour drive to Jhalawar. Lying in the south-eastern region of Rajasthan at the edge of the Malwa plateau, Jhalawar has a rocky but verdant landscape, unlike much of Rajasthan. With some exquisite pre-historic cave paintings, massive forts, thickly wooded forests and a variety of exotic wildlife, Jhalawar boasts a rich historic as well as natural wealth. Spot countless species of birds as you drive through the lush countryside; during the winter months, red poppy fields and orange laden orchards abound. (The area around Bhawanbi Mandi contributes a major share of the production of citrus fruit in India). Check in to your hotel on arrival and afternoon at leisure.
It’s worth timing your trip so that your visit to Jhalawar falls in late November, so that you can attend the Chandrabagha Fair – in which case a two night stay in Jhalawar is worthwhile.
Chandrabhaga fair takes place at Jhalrapatan, 6 kilometres from Jhalawar. The River Chadrabhaga runs through Jhalrapatan and is considered holy by the people residing in this part of Rajasthan. On the full moon night of ‘Kartik Purnima’ (Kartik is a month in the Hindu calendar which falls around October/November in the Gregorian calendar), thousands of pilgrims take a holy dip in the river. A large livestock and cultural fair takes place at the same time. Cows, horses, buffaloes, camels and bullocks are brought from distant parts of the region to be sold. With Jhalawar located in Rajasthan close to the border with Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, a wide variety of people attend the fair, including semi-nomadic tribes people, shepherds and traders. Chandrabhaga fair is a great opportunity to experience an authentic rural festival. [Image: Chris Caldicott].
Day 9 Amla
After breakfast today, you will be driven (4 hours) to Fort Amla with a stop en route to visit the city of Ujjain. Located on the banks of the Shopra River, this is one of India’s seven sacred cities. (The sacred Kumbh Mela festival is held there every 12 years). The main attraction of Ujjain is the Mahakaleshwar Temple; an 18th century reconstruction on the site of the original temple, it contains a much venerated Shivalinga.
Check in to your accommodation at Fort Amla, a charming heritage hotel featuring bold sweeping arches and long open terraces. Afternoon free to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere here.
Day 10 Maheshwar
After breakfast today, you will be driven (4 hours) to Maheshwar, with a stop en route to visit the city of Mandu.
Located amidst the Vindhya Ranges, at an elevation of 610 metres above the sea level, Mandu was founded in the 10th century by the Parmar rulers who made it their fort capital. Later, it was conquered by the Delhi Sultans, who named it Shadiabad, meaning ‘City of Joy’. There are a host of historical monuments to be seen here – most constructed in a fusion of Hindu and Afghan style architecture.
After a short tour of Mandu, continue on to Maheshwar, an ancient temple town situated at the banks of the beautiful Narmada River. This is another important centre of Hindu pilgrimage. (It is mentioned in classical Sanskrit texts). Its beautiful temples and ghats were built in the 18th century by the greatest queen of the Holker Dynasty, Maharani Ahilya Bai. Check in to your hotel – the charming Ahilya Fort, where great Western and authentic local food is a feature – and remainder of the day at leisure. [Image: Doron].
Day 11 Maheshwar
Full day free to relax and enjoy your heritage accommodation or to explore the small town of Maheshwar on your own. You may like to take a walk along the 1.5 kilometre river front, dotted with shrines, ghats and cenotaphs of the Holker rulers.
Day 12 Burhanpur
After breakfast, drive (4 hours) to Burhanpur, a hidden jewel in the annals of medieval Indian architecture. Its history is one of battle, conquest and change, interspersed with periods of peace that allowed for a rich aesthetic to flourish. It was founded in 1400 AD by the Faruqi King, Nasir Khan, and ruled by the Faruqis for the next two centuries. In 1600, the Mughal Emperor Akbar captured Burhanpur, and for a century thereafter, until Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, it remained integral to Mughal ambitions in the Deccan. (Shah Jahan’s beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal died in Burhanpur in 1631; the queen’s body rested here for several months until it was disinterred and travelled with the Mughal court to Agra – there, later, to find a final home in the glorious Taj Mahal). Burhanpur is a city of great architectural importance, but its fame rests largely as a place of pilgrimage for Bohra Muslims as well as for Sikhs.
Check in to your hotel on arrival and later in the afternoon visit the Asirgarh Fort. Located on the outskirts of the town, it commands a pass through the Satpuras connecting the valleys of the Narmada and Tapti Rivers, one of the most important routes from northern India to the Deccan in the southwest. It was known as Dakkhan ka Darwaza or the Gateway of the Deccan. [Image: LRBurdak].
If you opt for the 12 day itinerary, you will drive from Maheshwar to Indore and fly to Delhi/Mumbai to conclude your trip.
Day 13 Aurangabad
This morning you will be driven (5 hours) to Aurangabad with a stop en route to visit the Ajanta Caves. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these extraordinary caves, excavated between 2nd century BC and the 6th century AD, lie within a 76 metre high horse–shoe shaped escarpment overlooking the narrow Waghora river gorge. The caves were used by monks as retreats during the monsoon seasons. After a tour of the caves with a local guide, continue on to Aurangabad for overnight stay. [Image: Marcin Bialek].
Day 14 Aurangabad
Today take an excursion to the Ellora Caves, situated 35 kilometres from Aurangabad. Hewn from a 2 kilometre long escarpment, these caves are among the most splendid examples of rock-cut architecture in India. Created sometime between the 4th and 9th centuries by Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains, they provide an opportunity to compare the stylistic features and narrative concerns of these three distinct spiritual streams. [Image: Sanjay Acharya].
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